Monday, August 15, 2005
To Visit My Country, You Need to Get Up Early and Wait II
Today, I arrived at the Consulate General at 7:45 am. I brought my breakfast with me. Line was already long, but I was sure I was in the 30s. People were camping there with beach chairs and pillows. I asked several people to make sure everyone was there for visa. It looked like the line for opening of Star War Movies.
This reminded me of memories back in China when we waited around train station over night to buy tickets going home every Winter break. But this is prime location on Park avenue of New York. It somehow amused me.
I asked several random people in the line to make sure everyone was there for visa. Then I stood at the end of the line, again after an Indian guy. I began to enjoy my breakfast of Toasted bagel with scallion cheese and tomato as well as a hot cup of coffee. I would be very happy with the fact that I ate my breakfast later on. I listed to my IPod for some time. Around 20 more people were behind me around 9:00 am. Two of them I know from last Thursday, the two American girls.
Then suddenly I heard talking from top of my head. A security guard sticked his head out of a window and said something in Italian. People began to talk back to him and the chatty American girl shouted: this is not the visa line. And a whole group of people just run to the front of the line. There were indeed people in the front who have come for passport not visa. So after the dust was settled, 3 or 4 people that were behind me are now in front of me including the two American girls.
I was amazed and angry. I looked into the eyes of the Chatty girl and said: you should go back. You are behind me.
She tried to defend herself: "He confused us. This is the visa line. "
"Well, I am in the visa line. You can not just run to the front of me like that. Please go back"
She is a nice girl. She was ready to move. Then she said: "But there are several other people also".
"They should all go back."I suddenly spoke out to the front of the line" Let's be descent and honest here. Please go back to your original positions". I was usually not so outspoken but I was angry and I would not allow myself to not get in today for this absurd reason.
I decided not to be the silent Asian.
People went back to where they were. Order was restored. The rediculous Italian guard was no where to be seen. Trouble maker.
Door was open and lines were getting short. I was getting closer and closer to the door.
I was finally IN by 9:30. The security guard recognized me and gave me a barely noticeable nod. I walked in with dignity of a two time rejecters and looked at him with no smile (it was not his fault even). He looked away, a little uneasy. He was a nice looking and young man.
Once we were in, the same guy went in to a small room and begin scanning our passport and application form and assigning each of us a yellow slip with number. So he was multi-tasking. I felt little bad for a young man doing this job day in and day out. He was not that rude. It was our agitation and refusal to get up early and wait in the line that has caused much of the tension and resistance.
I got number 30. After bag checking, we went in to the waiting room. It was not that large. It holds just about around 50 people if each still want to have a breathable room. There are 5 rows of seats. I did not get a seat at first. But soon after a woman got up to the interviewing window, I grabbed the seat and made it my territory for the rest of the time. No one was going to take it away from me. I guarded with a invisible gun.
There was a screen in the front of the room, shielding the two interview window that are taking cases. So that is the reason why they take only 45 cases. Half of the staff was obviously on vacation.
Time check: 10:00. I settled in and began to check my blackberry and wrote e-mails. This was a working day for me. I felt guilty. 5 E-mails later, the indicator light still shows a number 2. That was 20 minutes already. I heard the rumor earlier in the line that it took them 1 hour to process 3 cases. I felt the scary reality was becoming a truth.
I got distracted from time to time to listen to what was going on in the interviews. People spoken broken Italian or broken English. Reservations were asked and questioned. Phone called are being made on the spot in front of the window. And the consular will wait while the phone call was made to Italy. People running in and out to make photo copies. Voice raised and voice lowed. Thank you being offered and no hard feelings. Typical visa interview but actually more human because it was so inefficient and casual.
I can not imagine an American consular spending 10 minutes explaining to someone why she does not need a visa. But it was happening here.
It was slow but it was slowly moving. Maybe because I was in and was sitting, so I don't feel that bad. People waiting were also trying to improve the quality of life during this time. The chatty American buy sat beside me and begin to change her Cell Phone calling plan. Indian mother was feeding her baby. One priest and two monks were standing on the side room silently like sculpture. Are they going to Vatican?
I began to scan each faces to try to imagine some stories so that I don't feel as bored. My I Pod run out of battery around 11:10 am. I can't concentrate on my book either. Influx of working e-mails slowed down. I was staring at the light indicating numbers and thinking of my life and think that life could be segmented into such a short stream of plans and goals. For now, I only want to get my visa. I don't think about career plan, meaning of life and what make me happy. To get out of here with a visa and go back to office to make my meeting will make me happy now.
At 11:45, the number was 19. More than half. I am closer.
At 12:30, the number was 24. It suddenly get faster.
At 1:05, the number was 30. I went up to the window.
An Mid-aged woman with blue outfit and large blue pearl necklaces was smiling at me. I smiled back and gave her my folder. As she turned over the pages, I read it out loud for her:
Employment letter, copy of my passport, visa back to US, bank letter, bank Statement for last three months, latest three pay checks, hotel reservation Rome (you also got it via fax too), airline ticket, hotel reservation porsitano, insurance proof...I am a veteran visa applicant and it was perfect.
She indifferently scan through all these and then asked me: do you have copies for these bank statements and pay checks, we are not returning them. I was quickly thinking whether I need them or not. I hate the fact to run out of here and to make copies. Who knows what is happening. Can I get in once I am out. I said generously: "Keep them. Keep them all". Now if they want to know how I lived my life in the last 3 months, they can find them all.
She walked as indifferently to the fax machine and looked through a pile of fax. Miraculously she found something and added to my folder. She began to type in something in the computer and gave me a letter: come back here next Monday 2-3 and you visa will be ready.
The whole process took 5 minutes. I must be the model applicants. I must have done something right. My visa was good from Aug 24 to Sep 4. Not a long window but I would not complain. I know all the rest of applicants must be loving me for taking up such little time.
I walked out, folder empty. I jumped into a cab to make it back to the office around 1:30, 6 hours after I started standing in that line.
Once I was in, the admin handed me a letter from my immigration lawyer. It said: In order to file adjustment of status for your green card, here are the document you need to provide by Sep 1:
-Bank Statement for last 3 months
-Latest three pay stubs
I was thinking of the folder I left in the consulate. If only I got this letter sooner I could have kept them. But I am not going back there. I am not waiting in line to get my documents back. Even they have been nice people. That would have been too much of a stretch.
Let's deal with one thing a day. Today, I got my visa to go to Rome.